Song of my Life
Author: Carolyn Brown
Publisher: University Press of Missippi
DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.
Continuing with what seems to have become a minor theme on my blog this month, this is a short, but fact-filled and moving biography of an under-appreciated and not widely known African-American.
Margaret Walker was a poet and writer who had to struggle throughout her life in the USA to get herself an education, to be accepted, and to pursue her career and her dreams. Even when she had earned herself a doctorate and begun her writing and teaching career at a university she still had to deal with racism which was only exacerbated by the fact that not only was she a black person in a white person's world, she was also a woman in a man's world.
As if this wasn't bad enough, when Alex Haley published his run-away best-selling book Roots, and Walker sued him for plagiarism, citing instance after instance of examples where she argued that he had lifted material from her writing (her 1966 novel Jubilee), including the name "Chicken George", she lost the case, although 1978, Harold Courlanderwho filed a similar suit, won his.
As this biography makes disturbingly clear, Walker Born in Birmingham, Alabama, navigated a cash-strapped and racism plagued childhood, moving homes several times as her father, a Methodist minister, tried to stay employed. She attended school and college in New Orleans still struggling to make ends meet. In 1935, she got a BA at Northwestern University, following it with a master's from the University of Iowa (in creative writing) in 1942. The following year she married Firnist Alexander, had four children with him, and remained married to this war veteran until his death.
She was a professor of literature for thirty years at what's now known as Jackson State University, and continued to write - and win accolades - throughout her life. Her works include an award-winning poetry collection titled For My People, and Jubilee, a remarkable novel about slavery, before, during, and after the Civil War and based upon the life of her own great-grandmother.
This biography tells her story - a story that needs to be told - and tells it well. It will make you feel uncomfortable, but it will make you feel triumphant as you read through to the success and praise which Margaret Walker earned after her struggle, throughout which she maintained her poise and equanimity. Her success inspired a whole generation of black writers to take up her baton and continue moving forwards. I recommend this book.